Hidden from view, debarred from debate - EU report on arms exports

The report attempts to collate data on 2010 weapons sales by EU member countries. Western Europeans were the biggest arms exporters. The biggest customers were the repressive regimes of the Middle East and North Africa who collectively bought 8.3 billion Euros worth of arms.
Kaye Stearman
25 January 2012

If you were a public institution and obliged to report on an area where your conduct was less than honourable, what would you do to mitigate the likely consequences? You might decide to release your report at an inconvenient time and fail to publish it somewhere easily accessible to the public. 

That's exactly what has happened with one of the world's largest public institutions, the European Union, with its latest Annual Report on arms exports. The report attempts to collate data on 2010 weapons sales by EU member countries - principally who sells what to whom. An issue worthy of public, parliamentary and media scrutiny, you might think. 

The Thirteenth Annual Report on Exports Control of Military Technology and Equipment was published, without prior notification, in The Official Journal of the European Union on 30 December 2011, the last working day of the year. It was not posted on the website of the European Union Council (which is responsible for its publication) or on the website of the European Parliament. The inference is that reporting on arms sales is a tedious bureaucratic duty rather than an issue worthy of public debate. 

The report, like its predecessors, has many shortcomings. It's a tough read - 470 pages of tables - without a useful executive summary of the data. The contents raise many questions about the reliability of the data and on EU commitment to responsible arms export control.

Eight countries (including two of the world's largest arms exporters, Germany and the United Kingdom) have not provided full data on deliveries, making an accurate analysis of actual arms exports virtually impossible. In the case of Italy, there is a huge discrepancy between the figures in the EU report (2.7 billion Euros) and those given to the Italian Parliament (615 million Euros). 

Even so, the contents are disturbing. While the total value of arms export licences in 2010 decreased by 21% compared to 2009 when they reached a record 40.3 billion Euros, they  amounted to 31.7 billion Euros, close to that of 2008 (33.5 billion Euros) and one of the highest figures since the implementation of the EU Common Position on the Export of Military Technology and Equipment in 1998. 

The biggest arms exporters all came from western Europe. France led the pack with a massive 11.2 billion Euros, followed by Germany (4.7 billion), Italy (3.2 billion), the UK (2.8 billion) and Spain (2.2 billion). Austria, Sweden, Belgium and Netherlands were also big exporters.  

While the value of arms exports to western countries (principally the European Union and USA) fell, exports to other regions soared to 15.5 billion Euros - almost half of the total. Unsurprisingly some of the biggest customers are authoritarian and undemocratic governments, who prefer to splash their new wealth on weaponry rather than the less showy but more sustainable areas such as health, sanitation and education.  

So Asian countries purchased arms worth 4.7 billion Euros and both Africa and South and Central America over 2 billion Euros each. But the biggest customers were the repressive regimes of the Middle East and North Africa who collectively bought 8.3 billion Euros worth of arms. When the Arab Spring began in 2011 these arms were used to mow down democracy activists.   

Under Article 15 of the EU Common Position, 2012 must see a review of EU arms export policy. Such a review can only be meaningful if it is based on coherent and comprehensive information and on an informed debate. But who can have confidence in such a review when basic reporting is so incomplete, flawed and unpublicised?  And where is the debate? 

The EU wants to present itself to the world as an arena of openness and democratic practice. But exporting vast amounts of arms worldwide, including to dictatorships actively repressing democratic activists, hardly adds to that image. Members of the European Network Against Arms Trade (ENAAT) are urging citizens to contact their Euro MP to demand a parliamentary debate on the current report, including a thorough analysis of its shortcomings, and to ask why the largest and most powerful EU countries continue to promote, licence and export arms to some of the world's most repressive regimes.


The analysis of the Thirteenth Annual report on EU arms exports was carried out by Giorgio Beretta, analyst of Italian Disarmament Network. Please credit him when using the above information. For further information contact Giorgio Beretta of Unimondo on +39-338-3041742 or email [email protected]

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